It's easy to forget just how badly the 2012-13 season started for the Indiana Pacers. Danny Granger's injury forced everyone's role to change, and that transition didn't just happen overnight. Most notably, Paul George, the man everyone assumed would jump right into Granger's role, tried being Granger. It didn't work so well.
So, Frank Vogel needed to make some changes and get George in his comfort zone. Eventually, he discovered the secret: George's strength was playing without the ball, not with it. And thus, the Pacers' many Paul George screen mazes were born.
Rather than try to put George in pick and roll situations, the Pacers' offense relies on him curling off screens, running from the baseline to the perimeter and spotting up off other players' work. Several of the sets from the Granger days were kept, but Vogel tweaked some to keep George within his comfort zone. George thrived, hitting a high percentage of his catch-and-shoot opportunities and growing as an offensive player.
This specific screening action for George is the Pacers' pet play. It calls for George to set a cross-screen for one of the Pacers' post players, then curl up from the baseline off the other to pop open from the perimeter for a catch-and-shoot jumper
ORIGINS: This is a tweak of what the Pacers used to run for Granger when healthy. Granger and George have similar strengths, so the transition was relatively easy.
BREAKDOWN: We'll use the play from a December game against the Blazers. It can be found in full at the 1:19 mark of the video.
The play begins with Indiana swinging the ball to D.J. Augustin on the left wing. As the ball is moved, George is going to come from the left wing to the right block to set a cross-screen for Tyler Hansbrough. This is a common NBA action that usually results in a post-up for the big man.
When defending a cross-screen, the man of the screener is supposed to step into the big man's path and make him go another way. Luke Babbitt, who is guarding George, does this. But that ends up putting him behind George himself, giving George a head start on his curl to the top of the key.
The Pacers now have a desired scenario. Usually, the proper strategy to defending a curl is to lock and trail the man coming off the screen. Because Babbitt has been distracted by the Hansbrough action, though, he's already way behind.
Babbitt tries to cheat and shoot the gap, which would put himself in Augustin's passing lane, but the Pacers are too smart for that. Ian Mahinmi, the man screening for George, simply moves over a step. Babbitt runs square into Mahinmi, leading to a wide-open three for George.
FREQUENCY: Several times a game.
VARIATIONS: The Pacers start George in different spots on the floor, curling him out to the wing in addition to the top of the key. While the cross-screen always occurs along the baseline, the second screener can be positioned in many different spots.
CAN IT BE DUPLICATED? It can, but very few teams have threats like George and either David West or Roy Hibbert. As such, it probably won't be as successful with another team.
HOW TO DEFEND IT: Teams must lock and trail George while remaining physical to fight through both screens. George is a worse player when he has to put the ball on the floor, so aggressive closeouts are a must.
COUNTERS TO THAT DEFENSE: The nice thing about this set is that it gets the post player a look as easily as it gets George one. The point guard could just elect to dump the ball inside if George is covered. In addition, the post player can turn into the lane and seal easy position, giving George an immediate pass upon the catch. You see this in the clip involving the Wizards.